Topics: Tiny House Villages, Safe Parking Sanctuaries, Showers of Blessings
On this episode of Solutions News, we are tackling HOMELESSNESS. We are thrilled to welcome our guest Jeff Shaffer. Jeff is one person whose been working effectively to help get vulnerable people off the street and into housing. In addition, we will share three innovative programs that are being implemented around the country, including in Santa Barbara, that are helping solve aspects of this issue: Tiny house villages, Safe Parking Sanctuaries, and later in the show, after our fan favorite “Didyaknow” segment, Showers of Blessings.
Tiny House Villages
Homelessness has been in the news quite a bit lately with a new report from LA about how its homeless population grew by 16% over the last year, despite the recent measures that were voted in providing additional funding to help solve this issue. Many are blaming the extreme lack of affordable housing for this increase. We promise that we will get into some solutions on that subject next week, but for today, we will focus on how to help the “un-housed” those under-resourced families and individuals who, at a critical point in time, lacked the support necessary to remain housed. It’s easy to dismiss these most vulnerable of our fellows - wrongly assuming that they are all drug-addicts and derelicts. This is not the case. And because this is Solutions News, we will be covering several innovative approaches to solving this challenging problem.
Our first story tonight is about a unique approach to helping the homeless through a “housing first” approach. Housing first has been considered the premier way to fight homelessness since the early 2000s. The goal is to quickly and successfully connect individuals and families experiencing homelessness to permanent housing - without preconditions and barriers to entry, such as sobriety, treatment or service participation requirements. Supportive services are offered to maximize housing stability and prevent returns to homelessness, but this is NOT a requirement for housing.
One newer solution that has come out of the housing first impulse relies on the fact that people don’t need a lot of space to live. In fact, just basic amenities like running water, electricity, indoor plumbing, a kitchen area, a bed, and a lock on the door are the necessities that make a world of difference compared to being homeless. These “tiny homes” provide secure housing for a small cost and multiple units can easily be built on the same lot.
Cass Community Social Services, A tiny house program in Detroit is able to build them for about $1 per square foot, which is remarkably cheap compared to the price of renting an apartment or a house, so each tiny home ends up costing under $1000 to build. A similar program in the state of Washington coordinated by the Low Income Housing Institute has had such success that they recently were awarded a $100,000 grant to expand their tiny house program. The institute has built 2,200 tiny house units in 10 different tiny house villages. Here in the Central Coast, tiny homes are moving from conceptual design to reality. The non-profit Operation WEB (Women Empowered Build Strong) is beginning work to create a tiny home village to support homeless and housing insecure female veterans in Santa Maria.
Safe Parking Sanctuaries
Our second story is about an innovative solution that’s been pioneered here in Santa Barbara. The New Beginnings’ Safe Parking Program has been recognized as an inexpensive and effective way to both support a section of the “un-housed” population and connect them with important services. It’s been so successful that other communities in California and around the country are asking New Beginnings to share its model.
The Safe Parking Program was started in 2004 with the understanding that we have a diverse population here, but not everyone has the money to afford a home or even cover rent in this town. There are many, even some with steady jobs, who for one reason or another lose a permanent roof and end up sleeping in their cars. So, the program provides overnight parking spaces for people who need a quiet, safe place where they can live in their cars. According to the website, the program provides “Daily-monitored parking places for those who are living in their vehicles because they do not have sufficient income to provide for their basic needs of affordable housing”.
The program has been getting some of the credit that it deserves from both national and local media. The program was featured on HBO’s Vice as well as an article in Rolling Stone and a few Los Angeles Times articles written by columnist Steve Lopez. Locally, they have been featured in both the Santa Barbara Independent and Noozhawk.
We hope that acknowledging some of the good the program is doing might lead to these properties being opened up for more parking places. It is a unique solution that takes the abundance of available resources and uses it to help address the issue of homelessness. Similar programs are being discussed in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even in European countries like France. Thank you for your work, and we are glad to see these ideas being spread abroad.
Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies. He studied at Western Seminary in Los Gatos, California before moving to Santa Barbara with his wife Julia in 1992, to Pastor at Community Covenant Church. Jeff was the interim Senior Pastor there until leaving to join Christian Associates International in 2005. At that point, he began working with marginalized people groups in Santa Barbara County. He began his initial work with Friends without Homes at Pershing Park with a meal sharing program he started in 2005. As Director at the Village Apartments on the Westside, Jeff organized a tutoring program, kids club, and helped create a library for at risk youth. In 2011, Jeff helped initiate the first Vulnerability Index in tandem with our Point in Time count.
Jeff is currently the Director of Community Engagement with Home for Good at the Northern Santa Barbara County United Way chapter, with primary efforts that include helping establish the Funder’s Collaborative and help reduce homelessness on State Street. He is also the Director of Initiatives with Santa Barbara ACT – a local non-profit organization dedicated to working with and for the marginalized in Santa Barbara. Jeff is currently working on helping develop more housing options for local women, survivors of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Santa Barbara County.
Jeff has been married to his wife Julia for 28 years and has three children – Kairos, Kennah, and Kalum.